The Weight of Female Healthcare Debt

Before the ACA/Obamacare I had to pay out of pocket for my yearly pap. My insurance company didn’t consider it necessary. Pap smears are a vital part of women’s healthcare, and an irregular one could signal a serious issue. I went in for one when I was 24, before the ACA, and was told my insurance wouldn’t cover any of the cost of pap. The bill was $500.

I was an Americorps volunteer at the time, I made less than $800 a month and some weeks couldn’t afford gas to get to my site, I had to borrow my boyfriend’s car. I sat there with the bill in my hands and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I called my insurance company, and they told me they felt the pap was “voluntary” and not preventative, so I’d have to pay for it out of pocket. That was the first time I cried on the phone to an insurance company. The gentleman was nice, but told me in no uncertain terms they wouldn’t pay, it was my responsibility. I hung up the phone in disbelief.

I called my mother hoping for some help, but she’s retired and on a fixed income. She couldn’t help me out. I was 24, drowning in student loans, and on my own. I couldn’t pay, so the bill sat there for a month. I couldn’t face it, I couldn’t process that someone without any medical knowledge had made a decision about what I needed to stay healthy. It was maddening.

I then got a call from a collection agency. The woman I spoke with was sympathetic, but in her words “(I) had to take care of things like this, letting them linger just hurts (me) in the future)”. I hung up the phone, again in tears, and had to call my bank. I had to beg the credit department to raise my limit just enough so I could pay this bill. The man scoffed at me, said my credit history didn’t make it seem likely that the raise would be approved. I was too ashamed to explain to him without it a pap smear was going to ruin my credit score. The shock and incredulity in his voice when he told me I was approved was beyond anything I’d experienced before. I was so grateful I could pay the bill I just thanked him and hung up the phone.

I was already in debt, I had to put myself further into debt to pay for something preventative, something that would help make sure my body was healthy and I didn’t face serious issues to my fertility and reproductive organs.

The ACA means that now my doctor and I get to decide the difference between preventative and voluntary, not an adjuster with no medical degree who sees me as a line on a spreadsheet. My story isn’t even the worst in the long list of indignities women and men experienced before the ACA when it came time to deal with healthcare. We need to tell them, we can’t go back to a time where being a woman and expecting to be healthy was the first step in the road to debt.